Deaconess Health System: Linda White, CEO

by HCE Exchange on November 1, 2010

There are six acute care hospitals associated with Deaconess Health System, the provider of healthcare to approximately one million people in southwest Indiana, southern Illinois and western Kentucky. The heart of the system, Deaconess Hospital, dates to the 1890s when the Protestant Deaconess Association began providing private medical care to patients in Evansville. Now a 365-bed not-for-profit hospital, Deaconess Hospital is joined in the system by Deaconess Gateway Hospital, The Women’s Hospital, The Heart Hospital at Deaconess Gateway, Deaconess Cross Pointe (behavioral health hospital), and HealthSouth Deaconess Rehabilitation Hospital.

FIRST Culture

“Our culture is such that when we put people, quality and growth together with a superior service, the result is a top financial performer, but it’s always about putting people first,” says Linda White, chief executive officer of Deaconess Health System. White has been with Deaconess for more than 20 years and has led the organization since 2002.

The FIRST culture—which stands for Fantastic people, Increasing quality, Resulting in growth, Superior service, Top financial performer—was introduced in 1999. Quality and safety along with managing costs while putting people first continues to be the highest priority for the organization. The system is well-entrenched in Six Sigma methods and has been applying them effectively for years.

“We’ve done our own internal training on black belt. We even have a green belt and yellow belt designation to support Six Sigma processes,” says White. “We put people through an educational process and then assign them projects that are sanctioned by Administration. We now have a fairly rigorous process for evaluating what workflows and processes to work on.”

According to White, positive results have been sustainable. “We do see monetary savings and process improvement going hand in hand,” she says. “I should put process improvement first because you have to hard wire process changes for sustainability.”

Strategically Focused

White describes the Deaconess leadership style as very open and supportive. She credits a strong board of directors that is strategically focused on making sure the operations support the strategy. “It’s multidisciplinary and very team oriented,” she says. “As any organization with more than 5,000 employees knows, you can’t over-communicate. That’s a real challenge.”

Recent capital improvements at Deaconess include renovations to the main campus to convert semi-private rooms into private rooms. Deaconess Gateway Hospital’s Tower II is under construction and is due to open in November. It is a 110-bed, six story tower that will open with 56 beds and the remainder being shell space.

In response to the realization that many patients in the community were going elsewhere for services, Deaconess has invested in equipment such as the da Vinci robot that is shared between two of its hospitals – The Women’s Hospital and Deaconess Gateway Hospital. “We have OB-GYNs as well as urologists focusing on this technology,” says White.

Deaconess is active with local schools to promote healthy lifestyles for children in the community. The health system also serves as a clinical site for multiple health education programs—two universities and one community college in Evansville alone. “We have a very well-known residency program for pharmacists. We also have a family medicine residency program and are able to attract top graduates from medical schools across the country,” says White.

Safest, Greatest Integrated Health System

“We are staying true to our vision,” says White. “The vision that we have is to become the safest, greatest integrated heath system for the people that we serve. We have approximately one million people in our service area depending on our hospitals. We’re not serving just a small city – we are really offering services for the entire surrounding community. We are prepared to provide our community a quality health care service with a compassionate and caring spirit.”

The primary concern, of course, is to continually balance quality concerns and improvements with cost management. “How do we juggle all three of those?” asks White. “How do we make sure that we stay mission focused, but still meet our five year financial plan that means dollars coming back into the organization? We call it a balancing act, one that we’ve done well, but one the takes constant focus.

-by T.M. Simmons

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